Friday, August 31, 2012

Nearly $6 Million Sought: Four Scientists Seek to Overturn Rejection by CIRM Reviewers

Four researchers are appealing rejection of their proposals to win millions of dollars from the California stem cell agency just as the agency is moving to curb such reconsideration efforts by scientists.

The latest appeals come in what the agency calls its basic biology round. The agency's governing board meets next Wednesday and Thursday to hand out as much as $35 million to as many as 25 scientists competing for the research dollars.

The four appeals follow a record outpouring last month of attempts at reconsideration in another round. One upshot has been a proposal that would tighten the review process. That plan also comes before directors next week.

In three of the latest appeals, the applications were given scientific scores that exceeded those of some proposals that were approved by reviewers. The lower scoring proposals were given the go-ahead on the basis of “programmatic review,” which one CIRM document says is designed to allow “consideration of issues beyond scientific merit, such as disease representation and societal impact.” 

The latest appeals – formally known as extraordinary petitions – were filed by Michael Teitell of UCLA, Deborah Lieu of UC Davis, Tony Hunter of Salk and Hanna Mikkola, also of UCLA. In all, their applications seek nearly $6 million from CIRM.

Hunter's $1.8 million application had the highest scientific score, 70,  of the four appeals. It ranked above three grants approved by reviewers. 

In his appeal, Hunter said “no major scientific issues were found” by reviewers concerning his application. He also reported new data involving a “major concern” of reviewers. Hunter said the information was developed after the application was submitted April 25.

In the case of Lieu, reviewers said she was “relatively inexperienced.” Lieu's appeal said she has “24 publications with over 6 years of experience in the differentiation of cardiac muscle cells from human pluripotent stem cells, 12 publications (3 co-corresponding author) on human pluripotent stem cells and their cardiac derivatives, and 3 publications on the engineering of pacemaker cells” in addition to other related professional experience.

She is seeking $1.3 million. Her application received a score of 68, ranking it above two other grants approved by reviewers and equal to a third also approved by reviewers.

Mikkola said her application built on work previously funded by CIRM. She also cited new data that the reviewers did not have access to. Mikkola's application for $1.4 million received a score of 65, which ranks it above one grant approved by reviewers.

Teitell's letter to the board also cited new data that is scheduled to published in November that deals with one of the concerns of reviewers. Teitell additionally disputed some of the critical information in the summary of reviewer comments.

He is seeking $1.4 million. CIRM did not release a score on his application, although it appears to be below 63, the lowest score disclosed publicly by the agency.


  1. Anonymous5:09 PM

    CIRM is NOT the NIH. CIRM has a clear policy that new data is NOT a valid reason for an appeal. The NIH, in the past, has allowed new data to be submitted after the grant deadline. However, the new data have to arrive BEFORE the study section meets, so that the peer review system is honored. The ICOC is NOT a study section and they don't have the expertise to review new data. Please, Tony Hunter, Michael Teitell, and Hanna Mikkola, READ THE RULES...and quit acting like prima donnas who believe that the rules don't apply to them! You are an embarrassment to the rest of us.

  2. Anonymous11:07 PM

    CIRM intends to commit up to 35 million for this round award. For each project, up to 3 years will be supported with $300,000 direct cost and 20% indirect cost per year. If you do the math, they could support 32 projects. As only 25 applications are recommended by grant working group, any application around the funding score line could try the extraordinary petition as allowed by CIRM. I have read the petition letter from Tony Hunter in the Salk Institute, I notice that the new data appears to be mainly used as an evidence to finish the project earlier and therefore decrease the total cost from 1.8 million to 1.1 million. The data is actually not used to argue against the decision from grant working group as suggested by this blog post. Obviously, Salk has a very high indirect cost rate (near 100%) compared with other universities. This may potentially affect the decision from grant working group as the money they asked could support 1.5 grants coming from organizations with much lower indirect cost. For future applicants from institutes with similar high indirect cost rate, it is a good idea to limit their fund request by shrinking the supporting years.

  3. Re Salk's "near 100 percent" indirect costs, those would not have had an impact on the reviewers' decision because CIRM simply does not pay anything like. With some exceptions, indirect costs are limited to 20 percent. Here is the exact language from CIRM regulations:
    "Indirect costs are currently capped at 20% for most awards (exceptions: RFA 05-01, 08-03, 08-04, and PA 08-06)." 

  4. Anonymous3:58 PM

    There is a misconception about indirect costs. CIRM breaks out the costs for "indirects" from other items that include rent and libraries, so CIRM actually pays much more in overhead. In Salk's case, they provide the same amount of overhead costs that has been negotiated with the NIH-over 90%. You should know that no university or research institute can survive on 20% indirect costs. The UC's are subsidized by the state, giving them an artificially low indirect cost rate of about 50%. Salk, Burnham, Scripps, Buck, and other independent research institutes are not subsidized, so their indirect cost rate is closer to the actual costs of running the institution- around 90%. Stanford has a rate of 61%, subsidized by its endowment.

  5. Anonymous3:01 PM

    The state does not really subsidize indirect costs at the UCs. We do not have all the marble and perks of Salk. All indirects should be capped at 50% and the savings used to provide bridge funding for almost funded investigators to pay their own salaries at a reduced level.
    The current R01 paylines are destroying the careers of many excellent midlevel scientists at a severe cost to them and to Science.


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